Sarah Pearce – ex-military, entrepreneur and ‘nearly stay at home’ mum

arah contacted Recruit for Spouses from her current location in Canada to share her incredible story from Naval Officer to entrepreneur. Her story is both familiar and hugely inspiring.

What is your career background?

I started my professional career in the Royal Navy in 2000. After completing initial officer training at Britannia Royal Naval College and further qualifying professionally as a Warfare Officer (navigation and operations), my military career was spent on military operations worldwide and in a variety of career-broadening roles which included managerial roles within planning and operations, physical training, to HR and recruitment. I transitioned from the Royal Navy in 2016, leaving the Ministry of Defence (Whitehall) from her appointment as a Military Assistant to one of the UK Defence Chiefs. This role saw me delivering fast-paced Private Secretarial support: engaging and supporting communication at a strategic level with Ministers; International Partners; Other Government Departments and senior MOD management. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

As I transitioned from the military and we moved to our exchange appointment in east-coast Canada, as a mum of young children (and a military spouse) it became apparent that I wanted to be a ‘nearly-stay at home mom’. I was aware that I didn’t want a ‘job’ but sought a career, as mobile as our military family but flexible FOR our family. With exploration into online opportunities I became a freelance project manager, communications specialist and executive assistant – capitalising on the experience I had gained during my previous military career.

I have two very separate business streams: I had been a Physical Training and Recreation Officer and with a life-long love of sport and exercise I decided to (finally) qualify as a Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. I had thought that postnatal exercise would always be welcome in a military community, and also perhaps provide a great opportunity for myself to connect with other spouses and families.

How did you move from the ‘idea’ to the actual business?

Having scrutinised the ‘in Province’ (Canadian) business & tax regulations etc. I became self-employed.  I found clients throughout North American via the online platform Upwork. The platform itself required some patience initially – I marketed myself as a Virtual Assistant which actually encompassed many of my transferable management and communications skills. I am still working with one of my very first clients. I am primarily working on a project as a freelance writer and also providing some project management support for a Canadian charity based on the west-coast. I started by teaching buggy- exercise classes initially at the Canadian military base, it helped me to understand the differences in the industry between the UK and North America before working for myself.  After a short maternity break, I have expanded my network in to the local community collaborating with some incredible local businesses and wellness professionals.  With some continued investment in to further developing my professional skills and qualifications in order to meet my clients’ needs I am now better positioned to support my clients living with pelvic floor dysfunction and/or abdominal separation. It is incredibly rewarding.

What have been the main high and lows in starting your own business?

Lows:  I think initially it was ensuring that I was adhering to all local regulations and requirements for both business streams being overseas.  It was also fairly difficult with a military background, to embrace social media and, put myself ‘out there’!  Equally, as a military spouse with no family or established network of friends this side of the Atlantic, at times solo-parenting and juggling work and study of (like so many other military parents) was a challenge.

Challenges: It’s hard to be strict with my routine. I try to be mindful and present with my children. The dreaded iPhone ‘urgent-work-email-creep’ sets in– this makes me sad. I try hard to establish and respect boundaries between family time, work time and down time. I have mum-guilt most days. This ‘juggling’ is a consequence of working for myself, the hours I chose to work and currently less-than part-time childcare. This is no different to many parents.

I appreciate that I am lucky to be in a situation where I have choices, many parents are not afforded this luxury. I also have developed amazing skills at being a ‘power-worker’, emailing at the speed of sound, during those ‘rare quiet times’ when perhaps (*cross-fingers*) the little folk are asleep. But, of course, I often work long evenings and (as now) weekends as well. Mindfulness, health, nutrition and wellness are vital to me – as is balance- especially as I try to fill many roles.

Highs: I am passionate about empowering postnatal women with knowledge and love working for myself in the local community. I hope the work I put in to my blog provides useful information for my clients and the local new mum community here.  I have really enjoyed exploring professional writing and, with my freelancer writer hat on, my current writing project, is also pretty incredible. I am working with a fabulous team and the writing I am doing for this incredible Canadian charity is pretty inspiring and humbling on a daily basis. I am getting to meet and share the stories of some incredible people.

Can you describe / outline your typical day

No two days are the same, although I try really hard to have set ‘work ‘times’ to make the week more manageable for us. At the moment I work 2-3 mornings/afternoons a week and catch up during the evenings/ as necessary. It generally starts with getting everyone ready for work and preschool- depending how energetic my two little-guys are feeling (William 3 and Jamie 1) that could be anywhere from 5am. My husband, Charlie usually drops our eldest son William at pre-school and I will either try to head out for a brisk walk (if there is not 6 foot of snow on the ground!) as my fabulous (and overqualified) early childhood-educator arrives to watch our youngest son.  Perhaps I may head in to Fredericton to teach my buggy-based exercise class, have a private personal training session with a client or head to a local café to do some laptop-based writing/work.  Having picked up William from childcare I generally have lunch with the children and enjoy my afternoons with them.  Late afternoon usually consists of a swim/sports-class for the boys, then bath time and bed.  I will try to either have a yoga session or do some exercise before meal-prepping for the next day.  Since being on exchange in Canada I have completed an OU BSc and qualified as a ‘Your Pelvic Matters’ and ‘Diastasis Detective’ teacher – so evenings may consist of some study, research, or perhaps a client call/meeting, or perhaps it’s time for some freelance writing/project management.  As I run my own social media, website and blog I also have to find time to respond to email enquiries, post social media, do updates and my own writing etc – as well as, say, fold the laundry! I am also a volunteer social connector for the Happy Hour Club Fredericton (an energetic, forward-thinking, networking community for women, led by an incredible female entrepreneur) and look forward to the evenings I meet with the rest of the squad, or help host an event.

What motivates you?

As a nearly, stay-at-home-mom of two young children, having transitioned from a 16 year full-time career in the armed forces, it was valuable for me to keep a sense of identity, my ambition and also to help my professional CV continue to move forward around my husband’s military career.  I also want to develop a flexible way of working to be able enjoy life with my boys whilst they are young. I thrive amongst a team/building relationship and love a challenge!  I have found this as a freelance writer (working with an incredible charity), virtual assistant/project manager (with a fabulous team) and working with some incredible pregnant women and new mothers when teaching.  There are a lot of pressure on new-mums to meet that ‘social media ideal’ and although I acknowledge every woman is different, I love to empower postnatal women with up- to-date advice in order for them to make the best choices for the long-term health and wellness of their body.

What has been your proudest moment?

Apart from my two gorgeous sons and incredible husband, probably graduating from the OU last year. I actually delivered my final BSc presentation whilst having Braxton Hicks! (Luckily my tutor was incredibly understanding of the deliberate pauses throughout…..)

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

Working for myself became more challenging after my second son was born.  My routine changed at home at the same time as my work responsibility increased with my main client, and time zone differences (as I worked remotely) often meant that I was intercepting critical project communication at awkward times around our family schedule. I had to reprioritize, adjust my focus and be very strict with curtailing some of my ambition to more realistic and balanced goals. I had to do some re-balancing across all segments of my work and home life, which was initially a challenge but now feels more sustainable.  However, I embrace the flexibility and I can shape my schedule and work around a military, and young family. I have breastfed when project managing and been on client calls in my pyjamas!

What three adjectives describe your strengths?

Organised. Enthusiastic. Caring.

As a military spouse, what has been your biggest obstacle when trying to balance work/kids/your spouses’ military commitments?

We are the only UK exchange family in this Canadian province and, for example, the British High Commission is about a 10 hour drive away in Ottawa! I have an incredibly supportive husband who appreciated my ambition and we have been so fortunate to have found the most fabulous part-time and flexible childcare. Without my husband, Kara and Donna (fabulous early childhood educators) trying to meet my professional goals around a young family would be challenging. My husband has been away for periods of time (not extended) and being overseas I have missed the ability to pop-home to see family and friends during those times. 

What advice would you give fellow Military spouses who want to get back into work, retrain for a new career or start their own business?

  1. I was totally unaware of the opportunities that exist to be self-employed and work remotely. Please know that flexible in-home opportunities for remote work do exist and investigate online freelance employment platforms such as Upwork. You need a strategy and patience – but some excellent opportunities do exist.
  2. Overseas Spouses: even if online work is based in the UK – please check your local in-country regulations as you may still need a work permit and to pay taxes in your country of residence – even if you work online.
  3. From Lieutenant Commander (Warfare) to talking about the pelvic floor in a buggy-exercise class is probably the most extreme of a career change you could ever make! Being a military spouse makes you adaptable and efficient at organization (moving your home and your/your family’s life regularly), resilient (dealing with separation) and great at making new friends (sometimes every 2 years!). So, I think we are eminently qualified to use that flexibility and adaptability to our own career advantage!
  4. If it wasn’t for my husband’s military career, I may not have embraced a new – normal for our young family, as despite the challenges inherent in military family life, it has provided the security and opportunity for me to make a drastic career change. I am fortunate I have a choice (some parents do not) and for that, I am grateful.

To learn more about Sarah’s inspiring journey, visit her blog post here or on Instagram @StrollerFiit.